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Failure to launch as artifacts found near lake

New Lac La Biche boat access digs into the past

LAC LA BICHE - The past is making an impact on future development for Lac La Biche County residents.

Construction plans for a new boat launch on the northwest corner of Lac La Biche lake along Campsite Road have been altered after initial digging unearthed a boat-load of historic artifacts.

The discovery of the historic items has slowed down an already delayed project to provide residents with recreational water access. There are currently no boat launches on the western corners of the lake. A launch site at the White Sands campground was closed several years ago and removed two years ago.

The new site is located just a few kilometres south of the campsite, and the project been a high-priority item on the municipality's capital building list. The next closest boat launches to the proposed site are more than 20 kilometres away — one at poplar point to the north, and the other at Ulliac Beach to the south.

While the plans to replace the old White Sands boat launch go back several years, the unearthed artifacts go back anywhere from several decades to several centuries.

"The artifacts found range from stone hide scrapers and knives — sharp stone flakes —  a projectile point, fish and mammal bones, to things like shingles, nails, glass fragments, a cast iron stove foot and plate and an old 22 calibre casing," says Lac La Biche County's Associate CAO of Infrastructure Services, Brian Shapka. "These latter items could range from early 1900s to the present, and the stone tools could date back 250 to 400 years."

The archeological significance of the items found in the construction zone means the initial plans for a "larger footprint" at the location will have to be scaled back. 

Gary Harman, the county's manager of Parks and Facilities says a smaller area could still see parking available in about a dozen truck and trailer stalls. A washroom building planned for the site would also have to be scaled back in size.

"We know that it's not the greatest amount of parking, but at least it's a boat launch with parking," he said, offering that the historic research has "stalled" the go-ahead plans a bit, pushing the next steps back to May. If all goes well, from there, he sees construction taking place some time in August.

Is there more?

Even those plans are dependant on what else might be found at the site. The find in the one location means that other areas in the construction area will also have to be examined.

Shapka says the province's historical resources department is calling for an exploration of three more areas within the construction zone. The cost — about $20,000 — to dig into the sites will be borne by the municipality. The dig requests mean more delays in creating a boat launch project of any size. 

While she realizes the significance of the finds from the past, Colette Borgun, the Plamondon area councillor for Lac La Biche County has been fielding calls from concerned people in the present hoping to have water access in the near future.

"I'm getting calls al the time," she said. "If it can happen, even with less parking, we need to go ahead because we really need one on that side of the lake."

Around its 167 kilometres of shoreline, the community's namesake water body currently has eight engineered boat launches with varying sizes and quality of available parking areas.

The option of looking for another suitable site has been brought to the surface several times, but ideas sink quickly due to the loose, sandy shoreline in most of the areas along the western side of the lake. 

"It's all sandy beach right around," said Harman. "From my initial investigation on that side of the lake ... this is the spot."

Even if no more artifacts are found and a reduced-size project can go ahead at the site, Harman says plans to access open water from the site this year are history.

"Unfortunately, we're probably not looking at this season for access," he said.

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